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introduction: posted nov. 8, 2001

In the 10 years since the Gulf War ended, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has said that he has always considered himself at war with America. And during that time, the U.S. has always considered him a threat.

In "Gunning for Saddam," FRONTLINE investigates the intense debate within the Bush administration over what should be the next move in the war on terror. While America's military unleashes its might against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, powerful forces in Washington are pressing the president to attack a bigger target.

The events of Sept. 11 have re-energized Saddam's strongest opponents in Washington. The weekend following the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, George W. Bush met at Camp David with his top advisers. "There was a lively debate about Iraq policy," New York Times reporter Elaine Sciolino tells FRONTLINE. "Some people from the Pentagon were arguing that the war against terrorism should include Saddam Hussein. And Colin Powell was arguing, 'No, absolutely not. One step at a time.'"

In this report, FRONTLINE chronicles how a group of influential former government officials, convened as part of a Defense Department policy review board, has increased the pressure on the president to go after Saddam Hussein. Chaired by former Reagan adviser Richard Perle, one of the Republican Party's most prominent hawks, the board advocates a policy that would lay the groundwork for removing Saddam.

The litany of charges linking Iraq's leader to terrorism are largely unproven in their specifics, but to those committed to building a case against him, they are powerful in the aggregate. These charges include Iraqi ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing -- journalist Laurie Mylroie and others maintain that two Iraqi intelligence agents secretly masterminded the plot. The charges also include the attempt to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush in Kuwait, in 1993, and Saddam's efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction -- a goal he has been pursuing for decades, according to Khidhir Hamza, the former head of Iraq's nuclear program.

FRONTLINE explores these allegations through interviews with Perle, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, former Secretary of State James Baker, Iraqi UN Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and Richard Butler, former chairman of UNSCOM, the UN weapons inspection agency.

"Gunning for Saddam" also looks at Saddam Hussein's taste for revenge during his two decades as Iraq's leader, and at the failures of U.S. policy on Iraq since 1991, including the failure to support uprisings against Saddam in the northern and southern parts of Iraq.

In recent weeks, the case against Saddam seems to have accumulated fresh evidence. There are reports that Osama bin Laden met with a former head of Iraqi intelligence and Czech officials confirm that Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, met with an Iraqi agent in Prague in the spring of 2001 (read about the controversy which surfaced in the spring of 2002 over the alleged Prague meeting). And now two Iraqi military defectors -- one a captain in the Iraqi army and the other a lieutenant general who was a senior officer in the Iraqi intelligence service -- have come forward to tell FRONTLINE of a secret government camp (see a map of the camp drawn by the army captain) on the outskirts of Baghdad that trained radical Islamic terrorists from across the Middle East.

To date, President Bush has maintained that the war on terrorism will be a long one, with many phases. Right now, those who want first to eliminate the Taliban's hold on Afghanistan have the president's ear. Some experts say that may change. All sides agree that if Saddam is connected to the anthrax assaults on the United States, the president's hand will be forced, and war with Iraq will be inevitable.

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